When my daughters and I returned from a special trip with my mom this summer, I printed out a photo from our travels. I couldn’t remember the last time I made a hard copy of a photo, nor did I know why I was doing it. I just knew this image needed to be in the forefront of my mind and of my life.
On this particular day, Avery and I’d been walking in the quaint, little town of Viviers, France when we saw a very steep side-street along our route.
“Wanna walk up there and see where it leads?” I asked my daughter excitedly.
Avery surveyed the hill, looked down at her feet, surveyed the hill once more and, to my surprise, said, “Ok.”
Reaching the top of the hill required taking long strides, leaning our bodies forward, and breathing deeply, but the effort quickly paid off. When we reached the top, Avery and I both gasped. From that spot, we had a bird’s eye view of historic pale-stone buildings and lush, green landscape that reached all the way to the bank of the Rhône River. We could see freshly washed shirts hanging on a clothes line and an agile carpenter repairing a cobblestone roof.
“I’m going to check out what’s over here,” I called to Avery after noticing an old church about thirty yards from the lookout.
After investigating that area for several minutes, I headed back over to where I’d left Avery.
That is when I saw this—this picturesque pause, for lack of a better term.
What I saw felt indescribably sacred, holy, and precious—yet, my initial reaction was to ask: What are you thinking about, Avery?
In other words, my initial reaction was to interject myself into my child's peace, disrupting the rare tranquility she found in that moment.
While there is absolutely nothing wrong with asking someone her thoughts, I felt certain it was not the time to ask. I felt certain it was my daughter’s time to contemplate a pressing matter on her heart. It was almost as if she’d traveled thousands of miles to reach this place to have this reflective moment.
I would not take that from her.
So instead of speaking, I stood in silent reverence.
For a solid five minutes, I stood absolutely still on that hilltop until Avery spoke.
“I’m so glad we climbed the hill,” she called out to the atmosphere, not tearing her eyes away from the breath-taking view.
When my daughters and I returned home from the trip, I printed out the photo and taped it above the kitchen space where calendars, forms, correspondences, and to-dos pile up each time summer comes to an end and we are thrust into the academic year with no time to stick our toes in the water and get acclimated.
Inspired by the artwork I’d seen at the Louvre in Paris, I decided to give the majestic photo of Avery a title: Pockets of Contemplation.
The dress Avery has on in the photo was discovered in a tiny shop in Arles, France. Not being one to easily find clothes that feel right, I was excited when Avery called me into the dressing room. Her voice held the unmistakable sound of happiness.
“Look,” Avery said smiling at her herself in the mirror, “It even has pockets, Mom,” she said, hiding her hands in the flowery folds with delight.
Avery wore that dress more times during the trip than her older sister deemed appropriate, but secretly I was glad Avery selected it for our last day, the day we climbed the hill. Little did I know the photo would become a grounding force as I feel the current of life constantly pulling us away from what matters most.
Pockets of Contemplation
They are rare in this life we are living.
They are rare in this world of information overload.
They are rare in this society of expected responses and unending interruptions.
They are rare in our pressure-cooker culture.
I will give you more Pockets of Contemplation, I silently vow to my children and myself every time I walk by the photo.
The other night, I attended the middle school open house for parents of 7thgraders. Each year, parents are invited to visit the classrooms of their child’s teachers to learn about their expectations and curriculum. I’ve been to four middle school open houses, and I live for the moment the teachers go off script, telling us more than rubrics and how to access their blogs. It was while visiting the classroom of my daughter’s Language Arts teacher that I sensed she was going there. I sat up in rapt attention as the veteran teacher began describing a troubling trend she’s witnessed over the past five years.
“As each year goes by, the children have less and less ability to think for themselves,” the teacher said. “They want me to give them the answer.”
The experienced educator reflected on how she had three television stations growing up and used the card catalog to find information. She rattled off a mere sample of the extensive choices kids today have to access information, be entertained, and communicate with others.
“Netflix, Prime, video games, Snapchat, Instagram…” the teacher listed, ending with an honest admission.
“It makes me nervous because they don’t know how to think.”
And that is when I knew why that photo of Avery struck such a chord with me.
Avery has always been a Thinker… a Noticer… a Contemplator, and it took years of painful introspection to acknowledge I was one of the main sabotagers of Avery’s ability to contemplate. When she was young, it was difficult for me to stop focusing on MY schedule, MY agenda, MY goals. But as my daughters grow, I am finding it difficult to stop focusing on the educational systems’ schedule, agenda, and one-size-fits-all “path to success.”
One of the most enlightening views I’ve read on the subject was found in an article that recently went viral, written by Dr. Louis Profeta, an emergency room physician and author who travels the country speaking to young people. He writes:
“We need to encourage our kids to slow it down, to take a longer path to college, perhaps. Expose our kids to real education—the kind of education that comes with a W-2, a boss, getting up early and working late and interacting with people who can’t afford a higher education. Make them appreciate the life experiences that come with nailing a 2 x 4, washing dishes, wheeling people to X-ray, picking up garbage, answering telephones.” (source)
In Dr. Profeta’s examples, I see opportunity for kids to take ownership of their lives by determining the pace and path that brings meaning, peace, purpose, independence, and fulfillment to their lives.
I was thinking about the article when I returned home from the open house and called out to Avery that I’d be coming to her bedroom in a few minutes. For the past two months, she’s needed my help getting into her scoliosis brace that she she’s now required to sleep in at night. Although it’s been on my mind that the doctor mentioned Avery should be able to get into the brace by herself, I have not pushed the issue. Instead, I trusted that Avery heard the doctor as well as I did and would begin doing so in time.
Five nights ago, Avery began putting the brace on herself. No announcement. No fanfare. Just doing it.
I watch as she feels around for the buckles and pulls the Velcro straps tight, adjusting and readjusting until it feels right.
As much as I want to jump in… help… guide…interject, I don’t.
Instead, I stand in silent reverence.
I am feeling my way too. And I’m learning that when I insert myself into my child's thoughts and experiences, I sabotage her chance of finding the path on which she can be most successful, most independent, and most at peace.
Once Avery was settled in her bed, I remained quiet. Pockets of Contemplation, I reminded myself. That is when my Noticer pointed to a little black spot on the ceiling. Through a tiny gap in the screen, the insect must have flown in.
“He’s been here since yesterday,” Avery said. “I named him Stuart.”
I didn’t need to ask—I was certain she’d given that name lot of thought.
Suddenly, unexpectedly, tears sprung to my eyes, as I thought to myself: This is the kind of world I want to live in
Where scenic routes are taken
Where bugs on the ceiling have endearing names
Where elderly people are visited and wheeled into the sunlight
Where pockets in dresses bring sheer delight
Where thoughts flow freely, and conversations unfold naturally
Where rigid braces for crooked spines are adjusted with gentle hands
Where time together is not on the clock
Where goodbye hugs are not forgotten in the rush
Where small steps are celebrated, and unconventional paths are honored
This is the kind of world I want to live in
Where it’s not necessary to travel five thousand miles away from our daily lives to experience a moment of peace.
And as we look out at the vast landscape of possibility from right where we are, we’ll be so glad we made the effort and didn’t miss the view.
My friends of the Hands Free Revolution, it is not too late to join Avery and me at a VERY special event coming up on Sunday, August 25 at 2pm at Mt. Pisgah High School in Johns Creek, GA. We will be slowing down to reflect on ways we can reduce the pressure & pace of our lives in order to find purpose & peace—not just for ourselves but also for the young people in our lives. For the first time ever, I will be sharing important findings from my forthcoming book and Avery will be joining me to perform several songs, including her iTunes original JUST BE. All proceeds benefit ALL ABOUT CATS RESCUE & ADOPTION, an organization that is near and dear to our family’s heart. The event hosts tell us that some of you are coming from out-of-state for this special event. It’s sure to be a homecoming of the most beautiful kind. Please grab your ticket here before the event sells out.
If you live closer to the West Coast and are seeking a gathering of connection, peace, purpose, and discovery, there are still spots available for my first-ever weekend retreat happening near the beautiful redwoods of Santa Cruz County, CA at 1440 Multiversity from October 18-20. Click here for all the information on the SOUL SHIFT weekend retreat. I celebrate the fact that many individuals are bravely coming without a friend or family member in anticipation of connecting with other attendees as well as their very own heart. I cannot wait to gather with you.
Back-to-School Sale– The ‘XOXO Before You Go’ hand-lettered print that has hung by our door since Avery coined the saying as a tiny girl has been reduced to $3 in the Hands Free Mama Shop. This sign is a beautiful reminder that there is always time for love before parting ways.
Thank you for your love, presence, and support.